"ATrip to Kharabakh" gets off to a fascinating start, commenting wryly on the tumultuous state of affairs in Georgia and its strife-wracked neighbors. But a shift toward mock heroics and an increasingly vague p.o.v. cause a terminal fuel shortage as it approaches the finish line. This "Trip" requires a good grasp of regional politics to sort out the players and find the humor. However, even those in the know will find the story gets unnecessarily muddled, which will limit the journey to specialized fests and limited DVD play.

“A Trip to Kharabakh” gets off to a fascinating start, commenting wryly on the tumultuous state of affairs in Georgia and its strife-wracked neighbors. But a shift toward mock heroics and an increasingly vague p.o.v. cause a terminal fuel shortage as it approaches the finish line. This “Trip” requires a good grasp of regional politics to sort out the players and find the humor. However, even those in the know will find the story gets unnecessarily muddled, which will limit the journey to specialized fests and limited DVD play.

Veteran helmer Levan Tutberidze sets his initially “Mean Streets”-like tale during overlapping civil wars of the early 1990s, but there’s little to distinguish what’s happening then with what’s happening today.

Gio (Levan Doborjnidze) is a handsome, notably unmotivated lynchpin among restless young men in their early 20s. When a relative asks him to travel to a peasant region disputed by Azerbaijan and Armenia, to complete a seemingly simple drug deal, he and goofy pal Gogliko (Misha Meskhi, playing Richard Edson to the protag’s Heath Ledger) agree to go.

They take a wrong turn, however, and end up behind Azeri lines. Eventually Gio busts loose and ends up with friendlier Armenians. (Both sides say how much they like Georgians — it’s just the other group that’s no good.)

Gio can’t tell if he’s a guest or prisoner, but — as we learn in challengingly structured flashbacks — it actually makes for a handy break from pressures at home, where his big-enchilada dad (Gogi Kharabdze) has come down hard on him for hooking up with a sad-eyed hooker (“The Good Thief’s” Nutsa Kichianidze).

And the old man doesn’t realize yet that Gio is also having it off with dad’s pretty, if cynical, young wife (Nino Kasradze).

Once ensconced with the Armenians, Gio is offered yet another love interest, a Russian photojournalist (Daria Drozdovskaya) who denies being part of her country’s imperialist past since she’s Jewish.

Script and Doborjnidze’s opaque perf make it hard to grasp why he’s so diffident toward the woman, or anyone else, and helmer moves into macho posturing as grittily shot tale goes on, with Rambo-like antics — albeit possibly satirical — obscuring the character development and the subtext about relationships between various ethnic groups.

Electro jazzy score helps lift the mood and fits loosely with Gogliko’s funny Miles Davis fixation, but it also adds extra cheese factor to “Trip” that already smells a bit overripe toward the end.

A Trip to Kharabakh

Georgia

Production

A Studio Remka production. (International sales: Studio Remka, Tbilisi, Georgia.) Produced by Levan Korinteli, Giorgy Kharabadze. Directed by Levan Tutberidze. Screenplay, Aka Morchiladze, Irakli Solomonashvili, based on a novel by Morchiladze.

Crew

Camera (color), Goran Pavicevic; editor, Niko Tarielashvili, Boris Machytka; music, Nukri Abashidze; production designers, Gogi Tatishvili, Kote Japaridze; sound (Dolby SRD), Michael Houdek. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival (Contemporary Cinema), June 18, 2006. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Levan Doborjnidze, Misha Meskhi, Nutsa Kichianidze, Nino Kasradze, Gogi Kharabdze, Dato Iashvili, Daria Drozdovskaya, Avetik Sanosian, Gagik Melkumov, Artavazd Paloian, Levon Chidilian. (Georgian, Russian, Armenian dialogue.)
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